GEORGE WASHINGTON BEFORE THE WAR
Before that later, more famous war. The revolutionary one.
I’m talking here about the earlier, less talked about war. The one not as well known. The”French and Indian War.” James Fenimore Cooper wrote about it in “The Last of the Mohicans.” You saw the movie. You remember Hawkeye. “No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.” Lovely.
In Europe, it was called the “Seven Years War.”But there were even more wars here before then. And those turbulent times of monarchial designs greatly disturbed the evolution of America. So first an American taxonomy reflecting European anarchy!
We named them foreign wars, though they were fought on our continent too, for the British Monarch then ruled over our English roots. The European basis of these conflicts invariably involved squabbles over which royal family would inherit and rule.
Americans became well schooled in the vicissitudes of monarchy. Resentment of royal investment had developed early on in the American colonies. Long before our revolution freed us from such savagery.
So here we go.
Four major colonial wars before the American Revolution:
1) “King William’s War,” 1688-1697. It was known in Europe as the “Nine Years’ War,” or the “War of the League of Augsburg,” and was settled by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697;
2) “Queen Anne’s War” was next, and known in Europe as the “War of Spanish Succession.” It was fought from 1702 to 1713 when the Peace of Utrecht was signed;
3) “War of Jenkins’ Ear,” or “King George’s War.” This was part of the European, “War of the Austrian Succession,” fought between 1740 and 1748. It was ended through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, signed in 1748; and
4) The “French and Indian War” was part of the European, “Seven Years War,” that was fought from 1754 through the 1763. All of Europe was involved in this war over the struggle to control Silesia, India, and North America. Many consider this the first true “World War.” It was settled in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris. It is of this war that I will soon speak.
There were also formative battles between the European colonists who came to America and the Native inhabitations who were already here. Major encounters included the “Pequot War,” 1636-1638, and “King Philip’s War,” 1675-1678, both in New England. The first one destroyed the Pequot nation and, through the Treaty of Hartford, outlawed the speaking of that Algonquin tongue. The second ended in the Treaty of Casco in 1678.
The latter involved the Wampanoag Confederacy. Those were the Native Americans that greeted and saved the English Pilgrims after their voyage on the Mayflower in 1620. It was the toughest war that the colonists had fought on their own. But it opened up the Connecticut River Valley for permanent colonial settlement.
And in Virginia from 1614 to 1646, there were the three wars fought by Jamestown colonists against the Powhatan Confederacy of Native Americans. This is the period of John Smith, John Rolfe, and Pocahontas.
There were also significant wars between the Native Americans themselves. Perhaps the most consequential to Europeans were called the “Beaver Wars” in the 1600s. Armed by Dutch colonists, the Iroquois tribes drove out their rival Algonquin neighbors from the St. Lawrence River and Ohio River Valleys.
That is one reason why Kentucky had few Shawnee villages when the European colonists arrived. They had fled south, founding Nashville. And of course, European disease also figures in, in the devastating decline of their population.
So when George Washington was born in Virginia in 1732, the Eastern seaboard was already significantly settled by the English, and had seen much warfare. What was beyond the mountains, to the immediate west, was another matter.
Washington would come of age then, and be instrumental in starting the next war in the West. The French and Indian War referred to above. That war would lead directly to the American Revolution, and Washington’s election as our first President. Hard to believe, considering his initial efforts!
But the French and Indian War was the war that made George Washington. Made him the soldier and statesman into which he would later develop. He did not start out that way. And of course, by marrying Martha Dandridge Custis, he would later become one of the wealthiest men in colonial Virginia.
But that marriage also brought along more significant slave holdings. A difficult issue to square with history, and the Declaration that set off our revolution and his rising future. But without him, the same political wrangling that we still wrestle with today, may have prevented our first government from fully forming in a functioning way.
Washington won the Revolutionary War with stubbornness, and a great deal of French largess. But two wars in North America, in such quick succession, had bankrupted the French government, leading to revolution and the removal of the French King’s head. So it can be reasonably asserted that the Americans spawned two revolutions. And George Washington was there in the beginning.
What happened to George Washington back then? You decide. He learned caution and judgment the old fashioned way. A trial of errors before he became President!